Poor Carlo Ancelotti!
Carlo Ancelotti has lived to see a lot during his coaching career. At AC Milan, his line-ups were at times dictated by club owner Silvio Berlusconi, two strikers were a must. In London, one or two players served as Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s eyes and ears, the Russian demanding a detailed report from his coach in front of the entire team after important defeats. And as manager of Paris St. Germain, “Carletto” had the somewhat unenviable task of forming a cohesive unit from a motley crew of star signings.
But even the well-travelled, thick-skinned Ancelotti may well be wondering where his luck has taken him this time. In Munich, he tops the table with a seven-point advantage; his team made the quarter-finals in the German cup (DFB Pokal) and is considered favourites in the round-of-16 tie with Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League. Yet still, no one seems to be particularly happy with him at FC Bayern Munich. For a club that took up the cause of “winning at all costs” for decades, wins suddenly aren’t enough anymore, now it’s about style scores. Ancelotti’s team plays too ponderous for many fans, lacking an element of surprise. Call it: administrative football.
As Gabriele Marcotti convincingly argued in his article for the Times on Monday, the bare figures paint a slightly different picture. In many relevant statistics (expected goals, possession, pass accuracy) after 20 games this season, Ancelotti’s XI is nearly on par with Pep Guardiola’s at the same stage of last season.
A fact that is made all the more interesting when factoring in that, stats-wise, Pep’s Bayern were able to deliver the best performances of his three-year tenure in the first half of the 2015/16 season. At the same time it’s provable that the (slight) loss of quality already started to set in with the beginning of 2016 under the Catalan. In that sense, Ancelotti hasn’t brought a decline; he merely has maintained the lower level. Numerous key performers have simply grown older, their output less reliable. And Thomas Müller is in the middle of a personal dip in form.
At Bayern’s headquarters, there is the distinct hope that Ancelotti - “Mr. Champions League,” as Müller called him in a recent interview - measures out the team’s power and concentration so shrewdly that they can now, in the crunch time of the campaign, live up to their full potential on the spot.
But even a convincing victory over Arsène Wenger’s Gunners wouldn’t completely silence the murmurs. The general reservations towards the relaxed methods of the Italian would likely remain, because wins and occasionally beautiful football no longer suffice for a club such as FC Bayern after their experience with Guardiola. The club longs for a coach who gets the maximum out of an expensive squad, not the bare minimum.
It’s not even about points as much as it is about money, asset management and asset accumulation: with the rapid developments of the transfer market, the club technically cannot afford a coach who fails to develop assets such as €35 million signing Renato Sanches with pointed guidance, or who relies on Joshua Kimmich, one of the biggest talents in German football, to find the correct solutions on the pitch by himself.
Ancelotti’s passive management style is hardly compatible with the necessities of globalised football in the long run; the work force has become too expensive to be mostly left to itself. Teams and players need concepts, ideas, methods that make more out of them than the sum of their individual parts, constant change and continuous progress for them not to lose ground in comparison with competition of similar financial firepower.
Ancelotti will soon realise that results are no longer the only decisive factor. Not even at FC Bayern, the record champions of results-based football.